JEF United Chiba manager Amar Osim has admitted the weight of expectation surrounding Seiichiro Maki has started to take its toll but is confident his star striker can get through an end-of-term slump.
Maki, a surprise late inclusion in Japan’s World Cup squad last summer, has not scored since September and a recent must-do-better warning from Japan Football Association chief Saburo Kawabuchi has done little for the former ice hockey player’s confidence.
“One of the big problems we have had this season is our players adjusting to being national team members. Playing for the national team is something very special in Japan and it is hard to deal with the pressure that brings and keeps performances up for JEF,” said Osim.
“It’s a difficult thing being a star. You have to play well when you are not feeling so good, or you don’t sleep well or your wife is not OK with you.”
“Still, we don’t think about Maki’s drought and no one mentions it to him. I didn’t even realize until he told me that he hadn’t scored for such a long time,” Osim said after guiding Chiba to its second Nabisco Cup title in a row on Friday, a 2-0 victory over the Kashima Antlers.
“You have to remember that other players (Maki’s opponents) look at him differently (since his rise to stardom). They are more concentrated and careful and it is not easy for him. He is not Ronaldo yet he has always got two guys on him.”
Osim added: “For us it is not a problem that he doesn’t score so often because he works really hard. Of course it would be better if he could score three or four times every game. But then a player who can do that every game is not going to be playing for JEF!”
Chiba’s Nabisco Cup win brought salvation for Osim, who has had a trying first season since taking over the helm from his father and current national team coach Ivica Osim in July.
In the space of a few seasons Osim senior turned JEF United from an also-ran into a genuine title contender and navigated the club to its first trophy with its Nabisco Cup triumph last year.
But despite playing arguably the best soccer in the top flight, JEF has struggled in the league over the second half of this term, winning just twice at home since Osim was appointed and is in eighth place, 21 points adrift of leaders Urawa Reds.
Osim knows his team should be higher in the table but said a grueling fixture schedule and the emergence of a handful of players breaking onto the international scene had not helped the team’s cause this season.
“We have to try to be better than we are now because I think we deserve it. I am not saying we have to be champions but I honestly don’t think we deserve to be eighth.
“But we have gone from being a normal team to a team with six national team players, who play every three days. We played the most games in Japan. We played the A3 Cup and the Nabisco Cup and we have the most national team players so some of our players have played 23, 24 games in less than three months.”
Osim still has a chance to exceed his father’s achievements in Japan this season by winning the Emperor’s Cup but he admits his biggest task is just trying to emerge from the former Yugoslavia coach’s shadow.
“It’s not easy to come in after such a coach for anyone. It may be more difficult for me than for someone else because I am not someone from the street, I am just the guy who is the son of that guy. Maybe it would be better if I had another name,” said Osim.
“Winning any more trophies wouldn’t mean anything. I have won a title after just a few months in the job but I have been lucky being in the right place at the right time.”
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